Tired of Twee Edison Bulbs? Bring On the Neon

Mr. Dilling believes that even a few years ago, a design like “Rexy” would have been unthinkable for a legacy brand like Coach. But recently Tiffany & Company, Bergdorf Goodman and Fendi, among others, have hired Lite Brite to help them liven up their images.

“If you’re Coach, how do you remarket yourself?” Mr. Dilling said. (Besides picking a strangely hippie-sounding name, Tapestry, for your parent company.) “I mean, you make leather handbags. That’s tough. You have to think of something that cuts through the visual clutter, and neon definitely cuts through.”

But even as fashion brands are using neon to showcase their modernity, they’re also hoping to invoke our nostalgia. While installing a cascading neon rainbow in Stella McCartney’s store in the meatpacking district, Mr. Dilling overheard multiple shoppers mention its “retro” quality. (Never mind that they each thought it evoked a different decade.)


Matt Dilling, 38, has run Lite Brite for almost 20 years.

Nathan Bajar for The New York Times

Tiffany, too, has taken up neon to try and reclaim some of its midcentury irreverence. In the 1970s, for instance, the company’s celebrated window designer Gene Moore created a neon-lit Chinese food container spilling diamond-encrusted pendants instead of noodles.

Richard Moore, the vice president of creative visual merchandising at Tiffany (no relation to Gene Moore), said that type of creativity “has not necessarily translated to consumer perception of the brand, and that’s why neon feels particularly relevant right now.” This fall, Tiffany’s Fifth Avenue windows display a neon orange “Don’t Walk” hand wearing an engagement ring. The (perhaps obvious) symbolism: A Tiffany ring will stop traffic. Like the Chinese-takeout container, said Mr. Moore,…

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